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Buddhadharma : Spring 2009
FIRSt, let go of the idea of a perfect retreat place. There is no such place! After all, this is samsara, not nirvana. When we think about doing a retreat, we tend to recall famous practitioners and want our retreat to be like theirs: done in perfect isolation, with no dis- tractions, no interruptions, and filled with spiritual accomplishments. Sounds good, but this ideal comes from a selective reading of their actual retreat circumstances. We remember the yogi Milarepa spending years alone in his cave but forget that he was often visited by rob- bers, hunters, demons, and—last but not least—his well-meaning sister, who wanted to reform him into a respect- able lama! And Lama Tsongkhapa was pursued by the Chinese emperor, who wanted a court lama. The Most Important Work You Can Do christine Skarda’s advice for a successful retreat In our own retreat, we may not deal with emperors or demons, but our sister or brother may check on us, despite our protestations. Thus our first task is to make peace with reality. The real retreat is not created by circumstances but by the mind. How do we create a retreat mind? Dedi- cate yourself completely. No wobbly intentions! Before actually starting, gen- erate as strongly as possible the convic- tion that this is the best way to spend your time in this life. You will renew and strengthen this conviction during retreat. However, you must have it in place when you begin, or you will soon be doing some- thing else. To generate conviction, study the life stories of great meditators and take inspiration from your own teachers, as they share their experiences. Doing retreat is not a spur-of-the- moment decision, say after attending a teaching on a great practitioner and deciding we must do the same. After a few days in retreat, this “teaching high” abates and we lose our way. The prob- lem is not that we are inadequate, only that we did not prepare by doing our homework. A retreat mind has a sense of renuncia tion. It’s important to understand the benefits of retreat and to view the ordi- nary way of living in the world as basi- cally meaningless. This insight requires study and may take years to develop. The starting point is Buddha’s most basic teaching: the four noble truths. If we do not understand the nature of suffering and its pervasiveness, there will come a time when the well-meaning sibling will coreykohnlindaheuman 59 SPRING 2 00 9 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly